Winter feed costs are the largest part of the annual cost of running a cow; winter grazing may be a viable way to dramatically reduce feed costs. This excess forage may provide an opportunity to reduce another major component of annual cow costs: cow depreciation.

Simply stated, cow depreciation is the cost of developing a heifer to replace the cow amortized over the life of the cow. This includes the value of the heifer calf that can't be sold, and also includes feed, veterinary, breeding and other costs of owning the heifer from weaning until she produces a calf as a two-year-old. As you might expect, the largest cost in developing a heifer (other than her value) is the cost of feeding her for a 1½ (from weaning to first calf).

An option for producers with abundant forage available for winter grazing would be to keep all or most of the heifer calf crop and graze them through the winter. This delays the selection of the heifers chosen to be replacements until more information is available about who are the best choices are (such as pregnancy status after breeding as yearlings). It can add value to the excess heifers that aren't kept as replacements because they will basically have been overwintered and used as stockers the next summer.

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